“Actions speak louder than words” is an old saying. Do you think it’s true? Many of us do. Words can be empty but actions demonstrate who we really are.
Choice Theory offers an extension to that idea by suggesting that actions can actually change our thoughts and feelings. How might this work?
Dr. Glasser uses the word “behaviour” a little differently than we usually do. Behaviour, of course, includes actions, which are often visible. When we consider how someone behaves, we’re often only considering what Glasser calls their “actions”—what they do.
But there’s more to behaviour. In Glasser’s approach, behaviour includes thoughts—our ideas and imaginings.
There’s also feelings—emotions such as excitement, dread, sadness, anticipation.
Finally, there’s our physiology—our body’s response. For some situations, hands clench, stomach knots, head pounds. Other situations: shoulders relax, breathing slows, head clears. We have many bodily responses.
Glasser refers to those four components (actions, thoughts, feeling, physiology) as “total behaviour.” While that term may be unfamiliar, it’s simply suggesting that the components are linked.
For example, let’s say that I perceive that I’m being treated unjustly and I respond with what Glasser calls “angering.” My total behaviour might look like this:
The action component could include stomping my feet, yelling, slamming the door. But that’s not all.
Thoughts swirl. I might fuel those with imagination about what I’ll say when I see this person next time.
We’re not done yet. How about feelings? Angry, they are! Calm is gone, replaced by bitter edges.
Finally, there’s the body reaction. Hands tremble in frustration, face heats with indignation, head chimes in with a headache and the stomach churns. Total behaviour is like an orchestra of anger with every component playing its role.
I’ve chosen angering as my example because responses are easily identified and most everyone has had at least some experience with them. But we could have chosen love, triumph, grief, or other examples.
You might be wondering, how does looking at behaviour this way help? By helping us make more deliberate choices.
Although the four components act together, there is a kind of hierarchy. Knowing this can help us be more deliberate in our responses.
What’s the hierarchy? Picture the components as a train. The front engine is the action component. It’s followed by thoughts, then feelings, and finally, physical response trails along at the end.
The train implies that our actions lead, and our thoughts, feelings, and physiology follow. Essentially, our actions steer our train. We have most direct control over what we do, so it’s through our actions that we have a chance of influencing the rest.
Even when we genuinely want to choose a different reaction, it’s difficult. I may wish that I wouldn’t be angry, but I can’t seem to get over it. I feel anger; I think angry thoughts; my blood pressure rises; I can’t stop talking about it.
If we don’t want to feel mad but can’t stop, take an action to change the feeling. For example, I’ve cleaned up the garden and now I’m not thinking such angry thoughts. Feelings and even physiology may trail along, by literally working our way out of anger, we relax, the head quiets.
Actions are the most controllable component of our behaviour. Choosing what we do can help us gain more effective control over thoughts, feelings and body.
Do your actions influence your thoughts and feelings?
Welcome to Reality Check:
articles and observations inspired by the work of Dr. William Glasser
- Choosing Behaviour
- Choosing Perspective
- Control and Choice
- Develop Understanding
- Doing, Thinking, Feeling, Physiology
- How it is sometimes
- Love & Belonging
- Perception & Reality
- Personal Freedom